CUT IN CRUDE SHIPMENTS TO ASIA TO BE MINIMAL

CUT IN CRUDE SHIPMENTS TO ASIA TO BE MINIMAL

The reduction in crude oil shipments to Asia in March will be minimal despite the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' weekend decision to cut output immediately, said refiners and traders in Asia.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have already said they will ship the full requested volume of crude oil to Japanese customers.Saudi Arabia has asked for a minor readjustment to the mix of grades it wants to ship in March, but the total volume is unchanged, said refinery sources.

Iran might not be able to comply with requests for loading at certain times of the month, but again, the total allocated volume remains unchanged, said trading house sources.

The commitment to meet Japanese requests doesn't mean these countries will refrain from cutting output, traders said.

The Saudis could reduce shipments by their chartering company Vela to the Caribbean, where the crude is stored for short-haul sales to U.S. customers.

Saudi Arabia has not fully accepted the weekend OPEC pact, but has vowed to cut output by 500,000 barrels a day from an estimated 8.66 million b/d in January.

Iran might reduce spot sales of its crude oil to European traders and refiners to meet its new OPEC quota of 3.184 million b/d. Iran produced 3.4 million b/d in January.

The United Arab Emirates has already announced cuts of 5 percent for March. The cuts will not affect Dubai, one of the member states in the union, which had traditionally remained aloof from OPEC decisions.

Abu Dhabi crude oil will also be unevenly affected by the cut, said sources at a major oil company with production interests in the emirate.

Murban output will be cut by about 10 percent, while Umm Shaif and Lower Zakum will be cut less. Upper Zakum is unlikely to be cut at all, the sources said.

Qatar's output, and its deliveries to Asian customers, will be down in March, but not because of the OPEC pact, said sources at a major oil company that is one of the main buyers of Qatar crude.

Qatar's oil fields are undergoing maintenance, and the emirate probably won't be able to meet its new OPEC quota of 377,000 b/d, the sources said.

One non-OPEC member in the Persian Gulf, Oman, could still announce cuts, said major oil company sources.

Oman, which produces about 600,000 b/d, has traditionally been one of the most persistent non-OPEC members in supporting OPEC output cuts.

Asian customers are especially sensitive to reductions in the shipments of Oman because they rely on the crude for much of their spot market requirements. But the Omani cut is unlikely to exceed 5 percent, and will, therefore, have only a negligible impact on prices, said refinery and trading sources.